Monday, August 08, 2005


Good lord, where to begin? Our lives seem to be so busy these days! I guess the best thing to do is to write in chronological order, day by day. Although I feel stressed about having so many things to write about, at least having the blog keeps me motivated and helps to ensure that I don’t let a lot of these small but memorable moments go unrecorded.

We’d been trying to get together with Shae and her husband (also an Art) for several weeks. After settling on sometime during the first week in August, we then accepted an invitation from Isabella to have lunch in Todi on Tuesday. Then we realized that the fest in Rotecastello would start on Thursday, so all of a sudden things got a little difficult.

We hadn’t seen Isabella since Easter. Her company had arrived on Easter Sunday afternoon, then we went back to the states shortly before Isabella herself returned to N. Carolina. Isabella and her husband Terry run a bed and breakfast just outside of Asheville, but will eventually spend more time here than there.

Isabella had arrived back in Todi in mid July for a three moth stay, leaving poor Terry in N. Carolina working at the B&B! When she called to invite us for Tuesday, we originally thought that would leave four other days for Shae and Art to choose from, but now we were limited to Monday or Wednesday.

Part of our concern about having lunch with them was that they live about an hour and a half away, and we had promised Silvano and Josepina that we would help them get ready for the festa. They’re the family who make and sell the mosaics, and they’ve always been so nice to us. We thought giving them a hand would be a nice way to repay their friendship.

Unfortunately we really didn’t know what they had in mind for us, so I suggested that we drive over to Rotecastello to see what they wanted us to do and when they wanted us to arrive. Monday evening we took the short drive to talk to them, and ended up meeting the newest member of the family.
As soon as we got there, the first thing Josepina said to me was “I’m a grandmother!” Her daughter Lucia had given birth ten days ago and was inside with the baby, Ricardo. Would we like to come in? For a brand new baby?! Certo!

Lucia was nursing Ricardo, who had weighed in at almost nine pounds. Mother and son were surrounded by the proud Nonna and bisnonna (great-grandmother). Luckily I had brought my camera and I asked Lucia if she would mind if I took a few pictures. She said no, that was fine, but I think Art was shocked that I would take pictures while she was nursing! I had to quietly explain to him, that yes, I did realize that she was nursing, but that I would take pictures that were tasteful.

After taking a few shots we prepared to leave, asking Josepina what time they’d like for us to arrive on Wednesday evening. She told us around 5:30 or six would be fine, and we told them we’d see them on Wednesday.

When I called Shae to tell her of our plans, of course Wednesday was the day that (her) Art had been scheduled for a doctor’s appointment. We decided to switch the lunch to Thursday, and knowing that we would be seeing Isabella, Shae asked me to invite her as well. This was turning into a party!

I was so excited to see Shae’s finished house because I had been reading about its progress, or sometimes lack thereof, for quite a while. Finally everything was finished, and I knew it would be worth the wait. Shae had brought her stove with her, as well as a grand piano, and I just knew that someone this dedicated would have a fantastic place.

Before we had lunch with Isabella on Tuesday, Art had a great idea. Since Isabella had accepted Shae’s invitation, and since she’d be riding with us, why not invite her to come back to San Venanzo and visit for a few days? This would also give her some company for a few days and a chance to see how the “country mice” lived. I’m sure that Todi is quite a bustling metropolis, especially compared to San Venanzo. We were pleased when she accepted our invitation.
Lunch at Isabella’s was fantastic. So far it seems that all the expats we’ve met here are wonderful cooks. I think maybe a passion for cooking and a passion for Italy go hand in hand. We had dishes I’d never had before, which is always a treat. A delicious chicken curry, ratatouille, and roasted peppers, complimented with cheese and bread, then the fattest juiciest green grapes you’ve ever seen. When the fruits and vegetables are in season they’re not only delicious but also gorgeous.

I love Isabella’s apartment in Todi….its just on the edge of the city wall, secluded from the hustle and bustle (and tourists), yet just a few minutes away from everything. We closed the windows and gathered Isabella’s things, after having warned her that we’d be putting her to work on Wednesday.

I also told Isabella that while we were in San Venanzo I had nothing planned to entertain her. I told her that she wasn’t a visitor here on vacation, she lived here, and I knew that she’d understand that we’d just let the days unfold and plan themselves. She agreed with us that this was the way to live.

On Wednesday morning Isabella enjoyed something she’d not had very much of while in Italy….television in English, especially the news. The day just kind of took care of itself….Art walked down to the bakery and Isabella went with him, so she got a little taste of how small San Venanzo really is.

At our assigned time we drove to Rotecastello and walked up to the Rossi’s house. We had no idea what to expect. Would we be sweeping out the workshop in the cantina or maybe helping to transport the mosaics? Would they want us to help set up the tables on the soccer field for the dinner, or maybe haul folding chairs into the piazza?

When we arrived Lucia and the baby were there again, this time surrounded by a gaggle of nonna’s, all admiring the handsome newest citizen of Rotecastello. We had found out that Lucia’s husband Francesco was the person who had recently opened the new bar in San Venanzo. We’d gone down there looking for him a few days earlier but he wasn’t in.

As we stood admiring the baby Francesco came in and introduced himself. He knew who we were because Adrian and Hazel, our English friends who own a house in Ospedaletto, had told us about Francesco, and were especially happy to report that he spoke English.

Eventually we all moved outside to the small terrace that’s in front of the house, and a table had been set up with snacks and drinks. Several people were gathered there, and people were constantly coming and going, all in preparation for the festa. We still had no idea what we’d be doing, and so far Josepina hadn’t said anything about it! As expected, the Italians are just so laid back about everything, and seeing the baby, socializing and have a drink were definitely more important than the work to be done.

When Josepina finally asked me if we’d like to work together we were more than ready. She said if we worked together it would be like a game and gathered some dried wheat and twine. She showed us how she wanted us to tie a few pieces together, so we got to work.

Silvano came in a few minutes later carrying a few branches from a wild apple tree. Josepinna showed us how she would put the little apples on a wooden skewer, then the apples, along with the wheat and bunches of green leaves, would be placed in a terra cotta pot to be used as centerpieces. A work of art from just a few odds and ends!

After we ran of wheat we used dried lavender and some sort of small yellow flowers. As we sat working, suddenly someone noticed something on one of the apple branches….a HUGE caterpillar! It was lime green and blended perfectly with the foliage…no wonder we hadn’t noticed it before.  Josepina called in several people to see this caterpillar, and introduced us to people from Rome who came to Rotecastello for August.

Barbara is a gynecologist, her husband Enzo is a science teacher, and their daughter Valentina spoke a little English but was very shy about it! We know the feeling! Enzo whipped out his camera phone and took a picture of the caterpillar, and not a moment too soon….Josepina’s mother soon arrived, took one look at the caterpillar and began telling us how dangerous it was, how it would send us all to the hospital, then she grabbed it, threw it down in the dirt and began whacking it with a hammer! We all sort of looked at each other….but then Josepina said, well, she did work in the fields when she was young, she probably knows more about it than we do. We nodded in agreement.

Art and Isabella wandered out to the piazza while I remained in the garden taking pictures. A few minutes later Art called to me, and as I walked up to where he was standing, I saw that he was talking to a woman I didn’t know. He said “She reads your blog!” What?!

This woman, Giulia, lives in Rome but has a home in Rotecastello. She had such a friendly smile and greeted me in English, telling me that yes, she loved reading my blog, especially the parts about Rotecastello. I asked her how in the world she’d come across my blog, and she told me that a friend of hers had googled “Rotecastello” and up popped our blog! As soon as she met Art and found out he lived in San Venanzo she knew who we were. What a small world. I really enjoyed talking to her, and found it very interesting that an Italian would enjoy reading the blog.

We said goodnight to everyone and told them that we’d be back the next evening around 5:30. We were going to drive to Grotte di Castro to have lunch with Shae and Art and thought 5:30 sounded about right.

On Thursday morning we headed up and over Monte Peglia towards Orvieto, which is about the midway point between San Venanzo and Grotte di Castro. It was interesting to watch the scenery change. The hills got smaller and more rolling, and the countryside started to look more like Tuscany than our part of Umbria. At some point we left Umbria and entered the province of Lazio, but we never did see a sign.

The best part of the drive was seeing Orvieto from the other side. We’d only seen it from the northeast side, where it sits majestically atop a high plateau…I think an extinct volcano. From the other side the city seems much more accessible, with the land rising gently up to the level of the city. And then there’s the Duomo…it faces west, so it was in full view from this side, and was easy to spot.

We found our way to Grotte di Castro without too much trouble, and as we approached it, we were all amazed to see that it was one of the medieval towns that just seems to be built into, and hanging onto, the hillside. Next visit, when we have more time, I plan to take lots of pictures.

We couldn’t find a place to park, so we called Shae and Art, telling them that we were looking at their front door but couldn’t park the car! Isabella and I got out of the car and the two Arts when off to find a parking place.

Shae and Art’s house is on the top floor, up forty seven steps, and worth every one! The views from the balconies were fantastic. The smaller balcony on the kitchen side of the house was used for flower boxes and planters filled with herbs, and the larger rear terrace was huge and filled with potted trees and climbing plants. It won’t take long for this terrace to look like a jungle set above the rooftops.

After following the story of the restoration, seeing the apartment at last was such a treat. They have a wonderfully modern Italian kitchen….it could be out of the pages of an Italian house magazine. The large, no huge, dining room had beautiful original flooring, in an elegant black and white pattern. Three bedrooms, one converted into an office, and two baths completed their home.

We know what it’s like to live through months of dust and delays, and can really appreciate how much Art and Shae are now enjoying just being in their home.

The lunch we were served was so incredibly delicious and grand….I felt as if I was in an Italian home with all the different courses. After a few nibbles of cheese and bread, we sat down for the lunch itself. Crepes with a four cheese filling, covered with tomato sauce were first…so light and delicate!
Next we had a chicken dish with greens…chicory I think, and a cream sauce so light I didn’t even realize there was cream in it! Next came a mixed green salad and a Romanian salad. I’d never even heard of Romanian salad much less eaten it. I think this dish was made by the young woman who helps Shae, and she had made two batches, each decorated lavishly!  The salad was wonderful and I hope to get the recipe soon. The dessert was a rum soaked cake covered with mascarpone and chocolate and was absolutely decadent…just as it should be!

Of course all these different courses took quite a while, and each was enjoyed at a leisurely pace. We had wonderful red wine and good company, so of course before we knew it, it was time for us to go! NO!!! We’d wanted to wander around the town, but that would have to wait until the next time. I warned Shae that the next time we’d come much earlier and stay later! Not only is the town of Grotte di Castro amazing, but it’s also very close to Lake Bolsena, which is beautiful. We could probably spend a few days in this area without running out of things to do. That’s the good news/bad news part of living here….there’s always something to do, somewhere to go, just never enough time! And then of course you don’t want to rush through anything…after all we’re retired, not on a schedule. What wonderful problems we have!


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